MIAMI PREVIEW: COMFORT FACTOR HIGH FOR RIPPERS AT TEAM CHAMPIONSHIP
MIAMI – Ripper GC heads into the LIV Golf Team Championship at Trump National Doral hoping that last week's showing in Jeddah was just an unexpected blip in what has largely been a successful season for the all-Australian combination.
With captain Cameron Smith leading superbly by example, the Rippers have produced a team win in Bedminster, a runner-up spot in London and five other top-seven finishes in 13 regular-season starts. So, unsurprisingly, they have lofty expectations as they prepare for the final tournament of the league's first full season.
Last week in Jeddah was a disappointing one for them after they had made a flying start in the opening round at Royal Greens Golf & Country Club. Smith fell short in pursuit of the season-long individual title, finishing second behind Talor Gooch, and the Rippers ended the week placed 11th out of 12 on the team leaderboard after surging into a two-way tie at the top on Day 1.
Overall, though, Smith likes his team's chances this week at a venue where they flourished last year. Plus, the 7,725-yard Blue Monster layout is in many ways comparable with Trump National Bedminster, where two months ago the Rippers clinched their first ever team title in the LIV Golf League.
"We're really looking forward to this week," said Smith, who has won twice this season in 13 LIV Golf starts while notching up four other top-10 finishes. "There's a lot of similarities in the course between Bedminster and Miami. Both are long, very difficult golf courses so yeah, we're looking forward to it."
Asked what the key to success was on the Blue Monster, Smith replied with a broad grin: "Hit it straight, hit it long, putt good."
Twelve months ago, the Rippers fared well at Trump National Doral. Known then as Punch GC, they finished second in the Team Championship, just one stroke behind 4Aces GC. Smith was their standout player, firing a sizzling 7-under 65 on the final day. His teammate, Matt Jones, returned the fourth lowest score, carding a 70.
"Last year was by far our best event," said Smith. "I know a lot of the boys had a lot of fun. The atmosphere was unlike anything else that we had experienced on LIV before and we're definitely looking forward to it all this week."
What really sets LIV Golf apart from other tours is the team concept and the Rippers have fully embraced that component of the League.
"It's certainly a little bit different," said Smith. "It's a little bit of fun. As golfers we really don't get to play in a team kind of format very often, so we're looking forward to it. Leish (Marc Leishman) and I are playing really well and we're going to play singles. Matt and Jed (Morgan) are going to play the foursomes, so it should be a good week."
As the seventh seed, the Rippers chose the ninth-seeded Cleeks as their opponents in Friday's opening match play encounters. Smith will take on Cleeks captain Martin Kaymer, Marc Leishman will play against Richard Bland and the foursomes contest will pit Matt Jones and Jediah Morgan against Graeme McDowell and Bernd Wiesberger.
"Leish has been playing some of the best golf of anyone out here recently," Smith said during Wednesday's team selection press conference. "I think it's been pretty set in stone now for a couple of months to be honest. Jed and Jonesy have known they are going to play together for a little bit now.
"It's a really strong driving golf course, and Jed and Jonesy are two of the best drivers out here. So I think that will set each other up nicely. I think they will be tough to beat.
"I enjoyed the golf course last year and I thought it was really fun. It's obviously a pretty tough golf course but we've done well here before. There's no reason why we can't do the same again this week with this setup."